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Wanted: Osmos, a Zen-like Game For iPad

Osmos is an addictive example of the new “ambient gaming.”

Wanted: Osmos, a Zen-like Game For iPad

Osmos, unveiled last Friday for iPad, is more than simply a spell-binding, addictive video game: It’s an “ambient” game that makes you feel relaxed rather than anxious playing it.

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Why’s that interesting? Used to be that video games were all about sweaty, tense button mashing. But as they’ve evolved to attract audiences beyond young males, so too have the various game-play experiences. So you’ve got gestural gaming on Wii or Natal, where the game play is relatively slow but asks you to jump around regularly enough to stay engaged. And then you’ve got Osmos, which sets you into a soothing trance when you play it.

Osmos, created by Hemisphere Games, has already had successful versions for Mac and PC, but iPad is its natural platform, because both Osmos and iPad are best appreciated when you’re lounging, rather than leaning on the edge of your seat.

The game is dead simple: Your avatar is simply a glowing cell floating in space. Your goal is to absorb other cells smaller than you, and when you do, your mass grows; the danger is that you can be absorbed by any cell larger than yourself.

From an interaction design standpoint, the game’s physics are brilliantly clever. You can jet around–but in so doing, you lose mass. And that makes you easier to absorb. Thus, the game’s incentives tilt towards moving as little as possible. (The game’s hints include, “Good things come to those who wait.”)

That simple fact makes the game a lot less “lean forward,” and almost like watching a fish tank or something. And that lulling effect is compounded by the amoeba like forms on the screen and the soothing electronic soundtrack. As a result, the game is almost as much to watch being played, as it is to actually play–something which you might say is the hallmark of an ambient game. It’s going to be fascinating to watch variations on this theme develop.

To buy Osmos for Mac or Pc, click here.

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To buy it for iPad, go to the iTunes App Store.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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